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Title: Psychological mechanisms underpinning severe performance loss in sport : applying theory to practice
Author: Chell, Benjamin James
ISNI:       0000 0001 3530 9276
Awarding Body: Sheffield Hallam University
Current Institution: Sheffield Hallam University
Date of Award: 2005
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This thesis provided a detailed examination of severe performance loss in competitive sport. Baumeister's (1984) model of choking under pressure and Masters, Polman and Hammond's (1993) model of skill failure under pressure have largely predicted the direction of the current research associated with this phenomenon. Both models control for dispositional and situational factors. The research underpinning these theories has produced equivocal findings. Furthermore, mechanisms associated with these models have been derived from limited research, lacking empirical or qualitative grounding in sport. The primary aims of this thesis were to identify psychological mechanisms that underpin severe performance loss, examine how the dominant mechanisms within the problem interact and establish coping strategies to counteract this phenomenon. Three research designs were used across this thesis. The first study adopted an inductive qualitative design. Studies two, three and four adopted a group-based design. The final study adopted a single-subject reversal design. The final two studies also used qualitative interview techniques. Study one investigated from the athlete's perspective, psychological mechanisms that underpin severe performance loss in sport. Inductive techniques produced five main themes that described athletes' experiences: stress, anxiety, self-consciousness, conscious processing and automaticity disruption. Athletes followed a similar sequence of events outlined by Masters' (1992) conscious processing hypothesis and reported dispositional characteristics consistent with Masters et al.'s (1993) model of skill failure under pressure. The contentions of Baumeister (1984) were not supported. Masters et al. (1993) constructed the Reinvestment Scale which they claimed to be a predictor of performance loss under stress. Study two investigated the predictive power of the Reinvestment Scale in skilled soccer players executing a gross dynamic motor task under stress. Results indicated that high reinvesters were more susceptible to performance loss under stress than low reinvesters, which provided support for the predictive power of the Reinvestment Scale. Study three investigated the effect of holistic and process learning methods and reinvestment on the performance of an adapted basketball free-throw task under stress. Results indicated that minimising the acquisition of explicit task knowledge in high reinvesters using holistic style learning performance loss, precipitated by conscious processing could be prevented when under stress. These findings have practical implications for rule-based orthodox coaching strategies used in sport. Study four investigated whether or not the use of different attentional foci could prevent performance loss in skilled golfers, high in reinvestment when they performed a putting task under stress. Results indicated that loading heavily on working memory (e.g. random letter generation focus) desensitised high reinvesters to stress. Thus, conscious processing of explicit task knowledge was prevented and automaticity promoted, which enabled consistent performance under stress. The final study investigated the influence of a two-phase putting intervention strategy on skilled golfers high in reinvestment. The intervention strategy successfully counteracted conscious processing by loading on working memory to prevent access to explicit knowledge during putting execution, whilst still enabling critical environmental information to be processed prior to putting execution via the use of external imagery. Interview data indicated that all participants would feel confident in using the putting intervention during competition. It is the author's belief that, although unanswered questions remain, this research programme has enriched the conceptual and practical understanding of severe performance loss in competitive sport for researchers, practitioners and coaches. Future research should investigate the relationship between personality and environmental factors on learning styles and skilled performance to establish a richer understanding of this phenomenon. Research also needs to examine the efficacy of psychological intervention strategies used to counteract severe performance loss in a variety of sports and ecologically valid competitive environments.
Supervisor: Maynard, Ian ; Bawden, Mark ; Thomas, Owen ; Winter, Edward Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available